Long before Twitter hashtags encouraged morning TV news shows to celebrate a different “World (fill in the blank) Day” every day, Buffalo Mayor Stanley Makowski officially deemed July 27, 1977, as Chicken Wing Day in the City of Buffalo.
The commemoration came about 13 years after the first now-famous Buffalo-style chicken wings were served at Frank & Teressa’s Anchor Bar in 1964.
Wings weren’t quite a worldwide phenomenon yet, but they were becoming more famous in Buffalo and around the country.
“In Buffalo, chicken wings are the piece de resistance at every municipal reception and corporate freeload,” read one nationally distributed story from the Associated Press in 1981. “Hostesses scatter bowls of them about at cocktail parties … (and) Buffalonians nibble wings in drive-ins and bingo halls as if Fritos and potato chips had never been invented.”
As the fame of the chicken wing grew, so did the number of stories about how the Buffalo chicken wing came to be.
The story told by 81-year-old Frank Bellissimo in 1977 was reported in newspapers around the country in an article carried by the Associated Press.
“It started in 1964. We Italians use different types of meat in our sauces. Usually, I used neckbones. One day, my supplier sent me 30 pounds of chicken wings instead. I laid them out and cut them up, but it wasn’t right.
“I says to myself, ‘Isn’t that a shame to put those wings in sauce?’ So I called my wife, Teressa, and told her I don’t think they belong in there.”
“So, she thought for a while, and we decided to serve them with barbeque sauce, celery, and blue cheese.”
At the time of that first chicken wing day, the Anchor Bar was selling 5,000 pounds of wings every week.
“We said our prayers and thanked God,” said Bellissimo with a shaking voice and tears in his eyes. “This was like a million dollars laying in my lap.”
After Frank died in 1980, the version of events that his son, Dominic, would tell leave out his father completely, focusing on his mother frying them, and Dominic and his friends eating those first “Buffalo style” wings. That’s the narrative more often repeated today.
On that first Chicken Wing Day more than four decades ago, it was clear that the wing was going to be a Buffalo staple for a long time, but News Food Critic Janice Okun was taking it one step further, predicting that wings would one day be a national dish.
“It’s good tasting food, and everybody likes them,” Okun said, sure that what is now our signature dish would soon be known around the world.